on Thu, 18 May 2000 13:13:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> serbia online

News on the seizure of Studio B were presented on the list today. The war
that regime has waged against independent and oppositional media got in its
acceleration, but to understand the proper context of the event, one needs
more information on the specific Serbian political and media context at this
very moment. These thoughts are my modest effort to contribute better
understanding of this context and the background of the growing repression
in Serbia.

Studio B

Studio B was operating under the full control of Vuk Draskovic's right wing,
clerically oriented party (Serbian Renewal Movement) which rules Belgrade
alone after the disintegration of the coalition "Zajedno" in 1997. This
party control was evident in their programs and especially news which used
to devote much of the running time to cover activities of Draskovic and
other SRM party officials. Sometimes it was too much to bare, a matter of
bad taste and narrow minded party propaganda. It was literally one party
television, similar to RTS,  until some six months ago when Studio B,
(obviously after the pressure that White House put on Draskovic) suddenly
opened for other oppositional parties and leaders, independent
intellectuals, etc. Radio B92 was given a chance to broadcast on Studio B
third frequency. Vuk Draskovic's main oppositional rival Zoran Djindjic, who
was banned from this station together with his Democratic Party, also got a
chance to appear on Studio B after a long period of neglecting. Studio B had
no other production except for studio talks and discussions, coverage of the
opposition's activities and press conferences, etc. Poor direction, lousy
editing techniques, poor studio and staff styling, inappropriate language
and pronunciation, were distinctive for Studio B programs and news, but who
cares about media aesthetics in Serbia these days. Studio B functioned more
like radio in images than like real TV, but it satisfied common desire to
hear more or less objective news from various sources. For many years Studio
B was the one and only oppositional TV station broadcasting in Belgrade and
in the last six months it's role in spreading critical opinion towards the
regime became more significant. Therefore, it is no surprise that at this
very moment the ideological background of Studio B has been put aside in
favour of the common resistance to the growing state repression over
remaining media.

Media wars

Belgrade is since last night deaf and blind in the sphere of electronic
media. The only independent electronic source of information to be heard in
Belgrade today is Radio Pancevo, located in the town of Pancevo, some 30
minutes drive north from Belgrade. There are few remaining independent daily
newspapers and weekly magazines, but their future is uncertain too. Beside
the repression over electronic and printed media, we are also witnessing the
poster and billboard wars in the streets of Serbian towns which means that
all the registers of the public communication sphere are transformed into
the media war arena. Internet is the only media which is still not under the
fire. Obviously, the regime does not take Internet seriously, having in mind
its limited impact on public opinion and relatively insignificant number of
users within the whole population. Nenad Canak, one of the opposition
leaders from Serbian northern province of Vojvodina, mentioned recently the
emergence of pirate radio stations in Vojvodina, but I cannot confirm on

The regime

Growing repression over independent media, opposition, students and ordinary
citizens is clearly indicating the transformation of the regime from
autocracy to dictatorship. Until now, Milosevic was a specific, self made
kind of autocrat, a weird but unique combination of Titoist party leader,
Oriental despot and technocrat, but not a dictator. In Western media, and
especially American newspapers, he was in the last few years in many cases
attributed dictator which was not true, since one does not need to be
knowledgeable in political systems matters to understand, both theoretically
and practically, a difference between autocracy and dictatorship. It is much
more complicated to deal with autocracy than with dictatorship since
autocracy is not easy to grasp, to locate its power structure, to unveil its
dirty games and, what is more important, it leaves certain (but controlled
and limited) space for political pluralism and media freedom. Milosevic's
seductiveness for the majority of population in the past years owns a lot to
this kind of rule. But, the days of cat and mouse play between the regime
and its opponents are behind us and it seems that seizure of Studio B opens
the new chapter of more brutal and transparent repression, of dictatorship
which might lead the country into a catastrophe with unforeseeable
consequences. Above mentioned Draskovic gave a good illustration for current
state of affairs when he sad that Serbia looks like a train which is falling
down into an abyss and there's no one in it capable to pull down the break.

Tactics mastery

Milosevic was from the very beginning of his career a very good tactician.
Even today, his future moves are unpredictable and we all remember how many
times in the last ten years he managed to surprise or deceive the
international community with unexpected moves. He may be a bad strategist
(the results of his policy are the best indicator), but his tactical
manoeuvres were giving him the advantage over the opposition which has
always been (and still is) one step back from the events. Only in the
situations when Milosevic made big mistakes (for example, elections in
1996), the opposition got its chance and, of course, never took the
advantage of it. With such a Serbian opposition, even united, Milosevic
could rule for next ten years, but the emergence of students' organization
Otpor ("resistance" in Serbian) brought new energy and new strategies of
resistance into political arena. From the small students' organization it
grew into people's movement, constantly provoking the regime through street
actions, placarding and mobilization of ordinary people for the support and
action. While oppositional impotency made people more pessimistic and
reluctant to join their rallies, Otpor managed to free ordinary people from
fear and to inspire optimism to hopeless and depressive nation. That's the
explanation for the growing persecutions of Otpor activists and it is now
evident that the regime simply does not know how to deal with this cancer
which is fastly spreading over Serbia. But, Otpor is not enough for changes
and it still does nor represent such a serious treat that could endanger the
very existence of the regime.
The seizure of Studio B is a good example of Milosevic's tactics mastery.
When the whole nation was preoccupied with regime's rigged accusations
against Otpor for "organizing the assassination" of Milosevic's high party
official Bosko Perosevic in Novi Sad few days ago, Serbian government seized
Studio B under cover of the night.

Foreign factor

Except for the symbolic (mostly rhetoric) support to Serbian opposition and
NGOs, it seems that USA, EU and NATO are waiting for the outcome of Serbian
drama from the safe distance (policy of containment).. Waving with dollars
in one hand (a "grant" for new, democratic Serbia) and sanctions in other
hand (collective penalty for undemocratic Serbia) Western powers still
underestimate Milosevic and the intelligence of the whole population like
they did before and especially on the occasion of the last year's NATO
bombing campaign. With their cowboy style policy and moves, they did more
harm than benefit to democratic forces in Serbia. If they sincerely want to
contribute peaceful and democratic changes in Serbia,, they should lift the
sanctions first. If not, it's better for us if they stay aside.

PS. While writing this text, I got the information that Radio Pancevo has
been seized as well. I switch to TV Pink to watch turbo folk singers with
big tits singing melancholic love songs. Good night.

 Dejan Sretenovic

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